Social media Sports coverage

Playoffs are around the corner: Here are some ideas for improving your sports coverage

With the high school football playoffs almost on us and prep basketball about to tip off, now is about as good a time as any to consider again about how to beef up your online sports readership.

And while it may seem sometimes you’re having to rob Peter to pay Paul when it comes to developing your online presence or preserving your established print product, here are some digital strategies that with the resources you probably already have can help you make inroads to both. Think of it as having your cake and eating it, too.

Reinvent your game coverage

First thing, consider using your social media coverage as your mainstay on game night. Weeknights or weekends, your readers are going to be coming and going, and whether they’re at the game, on the road, or partying down, you can keep them engaged with your social media coverage of the games. Some suggestions:

  • ●Don’t do play by play. If they’re at the game, they saw it. If they’re at home, they may be listening to radio. If they’re partying or waiting on their spouse to finish paying the tab somewhere, PxP may not grab their attention.
  • ●Do think analysis and context: Give them what they can’t always get from watching live or listening, much less waiting in line somewhere. Make your observations significant. Think of your role as that of a radio analyst, and give them what your competitor may not be able to: if the girls’ point guard just made a nifty pass for an assist, or the receiver had to outleap a defender to snag a pass, tell your reader “Lindsay Baskins’ threads a pass to Ashley Robbins for a layup. Lady Tartars up 42-30 at 2:13 in the 1st QTR,” or “’Dillas’ Ray Renfro outleaps a defender for a 15-yard gain to the Wampus Cat 10-yd line, ‘Dillas up 10-7 late in the third.” Or tell us the coach is getting heated, stamping her foot or throwing his towel after having to bench a player for foul trouble or a holding penalty negates a gain. That’s detail the broadcast may miss, and it’s stuff many radio competitors won’t or can’t deliver anyway in a stream. Make it worthwhile for your reader to follow.
  • ●Do get the greatest saturation by combining some social media platforms. Most of your readers have Facebook; fewer use Twitter, but those that do will likely rely more on it that Facebook. And you can do both simultaneously by combining your accounts so that what you post to Twitter pops up in your Facebook posts. A tip: choose the Twitter-dominant route so that your posts will be short and sweet, and there are likely other social media combinations you can explore. Here’s a how-to link for posting Twitter to Facebook:
  • ●Do have the final score ready immediately at game’s end, along with some context – “The ‘Dillas 27-24 win over Itasca puts them at 10-1 and headed to the first round of playoffs against Cairo or Attapulgus on Nov. 12.” You might even mention – briefly- who the star player was, but that’s all you need. Click “send,” head for sidelines or locker room for post-game interviews, and then head to the house to cool your heels. Yes, take a break. Here’s why:
  • ●Don’t worry about publishing a late-night or next-day story online. Readers who haven’t listened can go online and find the score, your summary, and the important stuff in your social media thread. And tell them to be looking for additional coverage

The game story: Out with the old, in with the new

For most weekly, twice-weekly or bi-weekly newspapers, your publication cycle won’t dovetail smoothly with traditional game story coverage.  Worst case scenario, your paper hits the news racks or the front lawn smack dab in the middle and you’re faced with the prospect of publishing an account that’s days old when its hot off the presses. That’s still a must read for parents and grandparents but the interest from many of your readers will be fading. So what’s a body to do? Ask a staff that’s already stretched thin to write multiple accounts? That doesn’t go over so well, so here’s a modest proposal:

  • ●Take a features approach to your published game story, and hold its posting until the evening before or the day of distribution. After you post the social media accounts, let them stand as your first-day coverage for those catching up.
  • ●Focus your print coverage on a features approach that includes players’ and coaches’ reactions, how they’ll incorporate what they did or didn’t accomplish into the next contest, or, if the season’s over, how they reflect on how it’s all come down.
  • ●Do think features, not news, with alternative ledes that tease the reader and play down the time lag between the timing of the event and your coverage of it.
  • ●Use your previous social media coverage as a tool in constructing your story. In it you’ve already got a timeline of sorts. Once you work the most significant pics or stats from the previous game into developing story, you’ve summarized what happened a few days ago and also offered readers a fresh slant. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have the opportunity to use that approach for a great advance story for the upcoming contest.
  • ●Make that story your sports centerpiece and post it online to coincide with the print edition. You can generate additional buzz by posting it the evening before distribution.
  • ●Do make sure you continue to promote that coverage through your social media and house ads in the paper.

Old news can be good news

If you’ve got a digital whiz in your shop, you can use your old digital files to your advantage by hyperlinking to previous coverage that allows readers to pursue their interests and beef up your readership.

  • ●If you’re telling a story about the season’s highs and lows, provide hyperlinks that allow readers who missed the earlier stories to pursue them.
  • ●If the ‘Dillas’ Renfro, who earlier outleaped that defender for the 15-yard gain, has been highlighted in previous games, give digital readers a link to that story and embed the link in his name, which should be highlighted: “Renfro outleaped a defender for a 15-yeard gain late in the third to keep the Dillas’ drive alive.” If you’re talking playoff prospects, and the ‘Dillas have already played Attapulgus, give readers their rein to revisit that game: “The ‘Dillas 27-24 win over Itasca puts them at 10-1 and headed to the first round of playoffs against Cairo or Attapulgus, which they defeated earlier in the season, on Nov. 12.”
  • ●Be sure, if their opponent has been determined by press time, to update the story, but that extra reporting should be minimal.

In the end, you’ve got limited resources but greater expectations by contemporary readers, particularly younger ones you want to engage for the long haul, and many of whom expect or will appreciate timely and convenient coverage. These strategies will require some newspapers to re-think and alter their traditional approaches, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. But these are steps that can help you attract emerging audiences with the resources you already have on hand.



Sports coverage

The traditional sports game story is dead!

When is the last time you waited for the morning newspaper to learn the final scores of last night’s sports action?

Do you anxiously wait for the thump of the newspaper on the front porch to learn if Eric Hosmer went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, or how many strikeouts Adam Wainwright threw in the Cardinals’ most recent victory?

Didn’t think so.

With the advent Twitter, live blogging, dedicated apps for every major and minor sports league, score alerts on smart phones and Apple watches, the traditional sports game coverage story – “the gamer” – is dead.

The final score, the leaders on the stat sheet and sometimes even player and coach reaction is reported in the seconds and minutes after the game. The Twitter feed has become the sports fan’s best friend instead of the random stranger sitting on the next barstool.

This does not mean sports reporting is no longer an integral part of the newspaper or newsroom. It does mean sports editors and reporters need to think differently about the content they create, and the stories they tell.

If your newspaper is still publishing the majority of its sports page with 25-inch play-by-play game stories then it might be time for a content remodel. And this sports page remodel will work at a metro daily with a circulation of 200,000 along with at a small-town weekly with 2,000 copies hitting the street.

I know what you’re thinking: “But how I am going to get all of the names of athletes in the paper? Those names sell papers to the parents and relatives in the market. That’s revenue, especially in small markets.”

You are right. And I am not suggesting to not report the game’s highlights.

I am proposing a way to do it differently.

You have access to the coaches, players and stadiums that Joe Fan does not, so use it: What can a sports reporter provide that fans can’t get on their own? Access. Your coverage should provide Joe Fan access to the players, coaches and team. Go heavy with “notebook” type coverage about players who are trending up and down, and why. Talk to players more, and report what they think about their game or the team’s performance. You have the chance every day to interview the coach — use that access to provide insight to the team and its performance. Fans can’t go up to the coach and players and ask them questions about a certain play, but you can. So do it.

Focus on the big play, moment: Instead of providing a play-by-play recap of the Friday night game, focus on the one big play that changed the game, or possibly the player that hit the winning shot, returned from injury to make a difference in the game, or a player who had a special moment that can’t be found in the box score.

Deliver stats, recaps in an alternative format: In baseball, do a breakout “how they scored” box that provides the play-by-play recap, and allows you to get those all-important names in the paper. For football, break down the scoring by quarters; hockey by periods; soccer by halves. You get the picture. This content should be featured in a graphic format with the analysis or feature post-game coverage.

Three stars of the game: Another great way to get names in the paper outside of 25-inch copy is a breakout “Three Stars” box to highlight three players who made a difference on the stat sheet or with a big play. Use mug shots of the athletes to add a little visual pop.

Look ahead, not back: This coverage model is especially true for weekly newspapers. While providing coverage of the past week’s action in alternative format such as graphic boxes and features, consider focusing the majority of your efforts previewing the coming week’s big games. And, as always, use your website throughout the week after publication days to report final scores, and game highlights right after the game to provide that “daily coverage” from a weekly print publication.

Those are just five examples of thinking differently when reporting and editing your sports coverage.

By moving away from the traditional 25-inch game story and incorporating some of these new elements, you might just hit a home run with your readers.

Sports coverage

Meet your new sportswriter

Northwestern University has produced a sportswriter they hope will be hired at community papers throughout the United States.  Not a new graduate who wants to work in community journalism – a piece of software.  The Intelligent Information Lab at Northwestern calls their new sportswriter StatsMonkey, and they think he’s perfect for community papers covering Little League games.  The co-director of the lab says that StatsMonkey is designed “to write the stories no one else is writing.”  The program takes the stats of the game and produces a sports story on the game.  Click on the link above to hear NPR’s story about the new software, plus an example of the type of stories the software can “write.”

Online news Sports coverage

How to improve sports coverage with online tools

10,000 Words has a cool roundup of several ways to adapt online sports coverage to better fit the Internet. While the sports story clearly still has a place, they have some good suggestions for some value-added features, many of which we’ve discussed in workshops, such as maps and stats features.

Online news Sports coverage

New high school sports site shows the possibilities for prep sports on the Net

The NAA reported this week that the Dallas Morning News’ high school sports Website, HS GameTime, now averages nearly 2 million pageviews a month. Visit the site and look at it as a treasure trove of ideas for what you could be doing for the high schools in your readership area. Football season is just around the corner, and now is a great time to tool up a Website that can draw all kinds of fan interest – and advertising dollars. GameTime generates so much traffic because it offers what no newspaper has the news hole to do – stats, scores and schedules, standings, rankings, videos, slide shows, and the like. Plus, they let readers submit photos and videos of their teams. To that, you should add videos of your band at halftime, cheerleaders doing their routines, and photos and videos of what’s happening in the stands and on the bench during the games – all the off-action stuff that we never have room for in the paper but people love to see.

Who’s the audience for this type of coverage? Athletes and their parents, band members and their parents, cheerleaders and their parents, other family and friends, local sports fans, high school kids who’d never even think of picking up your paper, and so on. Build this site, and they will come. And when they come, advertisers will, too.